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Art exhibition exploring Oklahoma history opens at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art
Emil W. Lenders (U.S., b. Germany 1864-1934), Portrait of Pawnee Bill, n.d. Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum, Pawnee, OK.

NORMAN, OKLA.- Oklahoma history comes to life through paintings, lithographs, drawings and other media in a new exhibition at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art on the University of Oklahoma Norman campus.

Picturing Indian Territory is the first of its kind: a scholarly examination of the visual history of Oklahoma and its previous incarnations as Indian and Oklahoma Territories, as told through the eyes of the artists who visited the land over the course of nearly a century.

“This exhibition provides an opportunity to see how artists, illustrators and journalists constructed an image of life in the Indian and Oklahoma Territories for a larger national and international audience,” said Mark White, the museum’s Wylodean and Bill Saxon Director and co-curator of Picturing Indian Territory. “Visitors may be surprised to see the unique outsider’s perspective presented in the historic works on display.”

The relocation of Native American tribes to the territories created a unique socio-political climate that prevented American artists from seeking residence or even an extended sojourn. Yet, the 19th-century fascination with Native cultures and the “undiscovered” frontiers of North America did encourage numerous artists to depict the cultures and spaces of the territories.

Picturing Indian Territory surveys how the people, land and history of Oklahoma were constructed visually from the early decades of the 19th century before and after the creation of Indian Territory in 1834; to the inception of Oklahoma Territory in 1890; and finally to the unification of Indian and Oklahoma Territories to create the state of Oklahoma in 1907.

“Newspaper and magazine reporters, government functionaries and artist-travelers were drawn to the region by the rapidly changing fortunes of the region’s traditional Indian cultures in the wake of war and non-Indian settlement,” said B. Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center and OU Press.

“In crafting their images, they relied, in at least a few cases, on written accounts and fertile imaginations rather than personal experience. Whether or not they were eyewitnesses to scenes they portrayed, they painted, sketched and photographed what interested them.”

Price, who is co-curator of the exhibition, will present a lecture during the exhibition’s opening festivities.

Visitors may recognize Oklahoma landmarks such as the Wichita Mountains, the Red River and Fort Reno, as well as figures from the state’s history such as Pawnee Bill, Quanah Parker and Geronimo reproduced in selected works. Historic events such as land runs, complete with Boomers and Sooners, battles and diplomatic resolutions are coupled with stirring portraits of Native sitters and life on the plains.

Picturing Indian Territory includes paintings by notable artists such as George Catlin, Frederic Remington and John Mix Stanley; drawings by artists such as James Wells Champney and Balduin Mollhausen, who helped to explore Indian Territory; and important memorabilia from the 19th century that helped to define Indian and Oklahoma Territories pictorially.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a book authored by the exhibition’s curators and published by OU Press in conjunction with the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West.

White said this collaboration between multiple university departments is key to the success of the exhibition.

“Picturing Indian Territory utilizes considerable resources on the OU campus in the form of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West and the OU Western History Collection,” he said. “Additionally, we are grateful to the private lenders and multiple state organizations that have loaned works to complete this exhibition, such as the Gilcrease Museum, the Oklahoma Historical Society, the National Cowboy and Western History Heritage Museum, and the Philbrook Museum of Art.”

The exhibition remains on display through Dec. 30 in the Nancy Johnston Records Gallery.

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